I grew up with a little help from my friends

The first few years I was driving a car, I thought it was OK to pitch apple cores out the window. I'd finish the good part, reach my left arm out the window, and chuck the core over the roof of the car and into the right side ditch. I did this especially when I had a passenger.

One time, I tried a variation and thought I'd toss one out the 3-inch-wide crack my brother had opened on his passenger-side window. I made applecoresauce, but that isn't what cured me from throwing things I thought were benign, biodegradable, and perhaps vermin food, into the ditch next to roads.

It was Carol DeVoe who cured me. It seemed a little harsh at the time, seeing as how some little orange peels didn't look as though they would cause any harm to me.

The DeVoes were the most adventurous family I had ever met. Adventure, a two-parent family, and two beautiful daughters my age kept me saying yes every time they invited me on an outing. They taught me how to cross-country ski, how to pack properly for wilderness outings, and how to tread lightly.

Dave was very organized, and into organizations. One, the League of American Wheelmen, had a nationwide 100-miles-in-a-day bicycle awareness event. You got a certificate and everything. LAW was formed in 1880 to promote cycling, and was instrumental in early efforts to have roads paved. Dave had a nifty patch on his bike bag that made LAW the organization for me.

Today, "bicyclists" has replaced the term "wheelmen," and it would take more than a new logo to inspire me to ride 100 miles in a day. But back then, I quickly borrowed my dad's Sears upright, with very few speeds, and set to torturing my backside.

The course was wisely laid out in shortish loops so that participants who needed to could give up at different times of the day in a conveniently located hub where they had left their car. And give up they did. It was as nasty a day as could be cooked up that time of year. When the members of LAW put their timing together, I don't suppose they were thinking about the Alaskan part of the American in their name. It started out cold and windy, degraded to rainy and windy, and headed toward really lousy.

But Eric, another silly teenage boy, and I were not quitters. We weren't smart enough. Long after everyone else had called it a day, long after our makeshift cardboard rear fenders had ceased to keep us from having our backs striped, I came across Carol. She was at the smart people's quitting hub, and we had an uncomfortable chat. She had spied the orange peels in the ditch from my lunch-on-the-fly earlier in the day. She was not impressed with my biodegradable logic: she had seen them, they did not belong there, and others' view may have been spoiled, too.

I had to give her that. Pioneer Peak, the Matanuska Valley, all of it was pretty gorgeous all right, and I had to agree that orange peels didn't add to it, and I promised never to do it again. Never, never, ever, would I toss anything in the ditch for the rest of my life, but please don't make me ride that loop again to retrieve them.

So I rode back and retrieved my orange peels. And I've never thrown anything in the ditch ever again. Nothing biodegradable, nothing edible, nothing. With 100 miles plus a loop in weather that has turned to sleet in my memory, Carol DeVoe cured me.

But the best gift the DeVoes gave me was skiing. In retrospect, I can't see how anyone ever made it past the chore of learning cross-country skiing. It has to be mankind's single least natural activity. At least with downhill skiing the skis are more than tentatively attached; you have some control over them.

But the DeVoe family had these gorgeous wooden skis, well-made wool gear, and even goose-down vests made from Frostline Brand kits. What better excuse to learn to ski than this really cool gear? It was the late 1970s, saving the wilderness was in, and I had the DeVoes as my guide. All I had to do was master these boards.

And I did master them. After that first horrible, sweaty, lie-in-the-powder-and-thrash season, I really took to it.

My dad had a rule: Every teenager in his house would have a job or a sport. No shiftless teenagers lying around doing the sorts of things he did as a teenager.

After ninth grade, working after school as a janitor in an auto shop until 7 every night, I figured sports had to be better, so I tried the ski team. Later, I figured out that the gear the DeVoes had, and I had tried to copy, was better suited for the wilderness scene. I got set up with fiberglass and Lycra and was off.

Skiing taught me more than any single thing ever had. I turned out actually to be good at something. The family thing hadn't really worked out for me; my parents divorced when I was 7 and I hadn't done too well with it.

After eighth grade at boarding school, I switched parents and moved to my dad's place in Alaska, just in time to be the new kid in high school. Alaska was a lot farther away then than it is now, so being the new kid was a very big deal. Every 14-year-old kid struggles, but I was up against about all I could handle.

But skiing was several hours a day doing something I was good at. There was no talking, so I couldn't embarrass myself. Getting a teenager good and tired out is about the best thing you can do, and skiing was always reliable for that. There were clear goals: work hard, do well, get praise. It was also something to think about other than the usual stuff I had going on.

It's a good thing we have friends when we are growing up to fill in some of the gaps, to teach us how to ski and not to throw things in the ditch.

There's a 14-year-old kid who works for me now, cleaning up in my auto shop. He lives with his mom, but his dad picks him up sometimes. I sure hope that I'm doing as good a job as the DeVoes did.

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